SHOWING : April 16, 2008 - May 11, 2008
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This 1970 theater phenomenon continues to inspire audiences with hope and wonder as it recreates The Gospel of Matthew with the most provocative and imaginative tools of the music theater form. An amazing score including "Day By Day," "All Good Gifts" and "By My Side" will rock the Balzer Theater at Herren's and stir the soul of all the faithful.
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Great All-Around Show|
Friday, May 9, 2008 ||
Like other reviewers, I really don't care for this musical at all. I find it very "message-y" in a preachy, rather than "food for thought," way.|
However, that having been said, this is the finest production I have yet seen.
This is a true ensemble cast in every sense of the word, and that's one of the things that makes it work so well.
I am particularly thrilled by the music direction. Ann-Carol Pence did an extraordinary job of blending voices, nailing harmonies, assigning songs, and most especially, giving her actors structure while still allowing them the freedom to make individual vocal choices where appropriate.
The set was exciting, and I liked how it was used by those onstage. I also appreciated director Tom Key's choice to send his actors into the audience frequently. Despite my dislike of the show itself, if one is going to commit one's self to that message, it is almost imperative that the actors consider themselves on the same plane as the audience: fellow travelers on a spiritual journey. If Godspell exhorts its audience to follow in Jesus's path, how can the actors and director leave us to be merely voyeurs to an onstage journey? And yet I've seen that done several times with this play and others like it. Thanks, Tom, for understanding that.
As I said, the ensemble was truly amazing, without a weak link in the bunch. Yet two or three still stood out to me as just a hair's breadth above the rest.
Jahi Kearse's Jesus was the most loving and down-to-earth I've ever seen. One of the things I usually dislike about this play is how the actor playing Jesus cannot help but take himself too seriously. I mean, come on! It's JESUS!!! You don't get more iconic than that - and in an attempt to be respectful, many actors play him too... well, "perfectly". Kearse's Jesus was very human - he was funny, he was imperfect, he had real emotions and not all of them were beatific. Yet he was also wise, patient, supremely loving, and he really got jazzed by the teaching he did. I love that HE loved to teach! Add to that a truly beautiful voice, dancing ability, and a handsome face and body,and you get one exquisite performance.
Another stand out was Travis Smith as John the Baptist/Judas. Smith is a very gifted actor and musician, and brings a great deal of subtlety to his performances. And I would be remiss if I failed to give an admiring nod to Naima Carter, who is blessed with a powerhouse of a voice.
Very good show! [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
The Plank in my Eye|
Monday, April 28, 2008 ||
In a column last year, I focused on why I have always hated “Godspell,” why I find its “message” hard-going for anyone who’s not “already converted,” and how its score always left me cold and unimpressed. Now comes Theatrical Outfit’s original and energetic mounting, and I’m here today to eat some serious crow. I loved every minute of this production. Even the songs.|
Let’s start with something really simple, but really important. All productions of this show I’ve seen before (including that awful movie) begin with the cast “shedding the uniforms” of their lives and donning a new casual and “bohemian” uniform, painting their faces and tossing aside their lives and personalities. Ignoring the sixties/seventies pigeonhole into which this puts any production, I’ve always seen this as “trading one uniform for another.” It is also cult-like behavior – if you have to sacrifice who you are to “receive the message,” what good is it? This device usually has me disliking a production before it even has a chance to begin, and it has the effect of making the entire ensemble interchangeable.
Here, though, the cast not only keeps their clothes and characters, they’re encouraged to do so. Much of the humor, most of the humor (and I often found myself laughing hysterically throughout), is a result of these very individual characters reacting to each other, to their teacher, to the “lessons” he’s imparting. I found myself this time “going with the flow,” rather than resenting every word coming from the stage.
Next, the production changes the beginning somewhat. Instead of John the Baptist gathering the ensemble with “Prepare Ye,” we’re given a prologue in which we hear excerpts of philosophers and theologians throughout history (including Jesus). Even crackpots are allowed their say (L. Ron Hubbard is there right alongside Socrates and Aquinas). Their not-always-incompatible words soon jumble together into a cacophony that John’s song cuts through with its simplicity. Given that the set is a pseudo-Greek temple a bit frayed around the edges, this has the effect of making the words of Jesus part of a wider tradition of Western thought, building on the words of those who came before (and providing the foundation for those who followed). He’s not come to replace what you already believe with a sanctimonious “I’m right and you’re wrong” “Believe in me or suffer eternal damnation” message, but with life lessons that acknowledge all the contributions that have led to them.
Even the lack of conflict in the script seems to be “fixed” here. In prior productions, I always felt Jesus “had it too easy,” that he spends the show “preaching to the choir,” which gave the productions no momentum, no “arc” other than what we already know from the Bible. Here, though, that seems to be acknowledged. Someone in the ensemble always has a “What the Heck are you talking about?” reaction that Jesus (or one of the others) has to overcome.
Actually, this previous point is a bit bogus – after all, most of these reactions are scripted and were also present in prior productions. Here, though, I think there is such energy, such talent coming from the cast, and such creativity in the conception and design, I didn’t mind the lack of conflict. Many of the “lessons” are given a highly rhythmic/musical underscore, and presented with such diverse theatricality, I was left wondering not “what’s happening next?”, but “What’s the next number?” -- more concert than narrative. This has an unfortunate side affect of giving the show a slight lag in Act II when the plot has to go through its paces, but, certainly, not enough of a lag to really matter.
True, the warnings about Hell still come across a bit “Lead by Fear” for a skeptic like me, and the transition of John to Judas is still a bit contrived, but, given the sheer entertainment of the venture, I didn’t really mind. One of the best aspects of this production is that this cast comes across less like a shepherd and his flock, than like a group of friends working together to find those elusive “answers to life’s persistent questions.” The farewell song following the Last Supper now comes across as people saying a gentle good-bye to their friend, and it is all the more moving for that.
I also really liked this cast. Jahi Kearse’s Jesus is constantly entertaining, occasionally amused and even surprised by his friends, and always inventive with his deliveries and lessons. This is not the “Used Car Salesman” I’ve commented on from other productions, but a guy who seems to have an “inside track” on how to find the answers. And he’s not afraid to show his doubts and fears to us and to his friends. Moreover, I didn’t feel I was being judged by him. Of course he talks about Heaven and Hell as the ultimate reward or punishment, since he must, but his attitude can also be read as “these are the actions that can make your life and your world a heaven or hell.” And, he reserves his harshest judgments for those who loudly proclaim their faith on the street corner. What skeptic wouldn’t respond favorably to that?
The rest of the ensemble (Christy Baggett, Cynthia Barrett, Naima J. Carter, Katie Kneeland, Rob Lawhon, Wendy Melkonian, Eric Moore, Travis Smith, and Justin Tanner) all get a chance to shine, and none let themselves overshadow the others. I liked that Jesus gives them all ”good-bye presents” of jackets with their names on the back, so we know who’s who (even though, this time, I ‘d seen most in enough other shows, so I was able to guess).
The production itself is filled with invention, from the Greek Temple set, to the shipping crates marked “Fragile” in a plethora of languages (which make a clever device for the appearance and disappearance of props and costume pieces), to the live orchestra under the set, to the use of the house aisles and audience. And the ending is done in a way I won’t spoil here, but it is breathtaking in its simplicity, and moving in its implications.
Of course, none of this provides a clue as to why I suddenly like the songs (even the simplistic “I’m dying” at the crucifixion worked for me this time). I suspect it may have something to do with the plank/mote lesson – Most productions are so oft-putting for me from the start, that I had planks in my eyes and ears, and never really heard the music before. It may just be that this time, they are performed with such talent and energy that the actors sold them to me more strongly than in other productions. I still have no desire to rush and buy the CD, but that doesn’t mean the songs aren’t drifting through my head even as I write these words.
Of course, you may want to take under advisement the fact that I am still filtering this play through my Skeptic’s glasses, and remain unconverted by the lessons on display. Which, of course, begs the question, “Will a fan of ‘Godspell’ respond favorably to a production praised by someone who is on record as hating the show, and disbelieving the source?” Only you can answer that question.
Stripped of my judgment-impairing eye-plank, I found this production of “Godspell,” entertaining, funny, moving, and down-right exhilarating. More to the point, it didn’t judge me.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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| || I keep JUST missing getting to do the prologue by Okely Dokely|
| It's one of my favorite song in the show. So often, though, it's cut from the production. I've been in Godspell 3 times, and still haven't gotten to sing it.|
In my first production, it was done, but I was a member of a teenage ensemble of about 50 [mooniemcmoonster was in this with me], and only the main cast (professionals who toured into Atlanta) did the Prologue.
In my second Godspell, I was Jesus, and Jesus isn't in that song. They didn't do it then anyway.
The third time I did it, we didn't sing it. We spoke it.
| || Just Missing ... by Dedalus|
| Jiminy, there so many "just misses" to talk about. I'm not sure which is worse, "just missing" on doing something you always wanted to do, or getting to do it, and not having to "look forward to it" any more. |
Or, which is worse -- "just missing" doing something, or getting to do it in truly awful production that no one sees (Remind me sometime to tell you about a "Much Ado" production that I "just missed" playing Benedict, ended playing the Prince, and the whole production really tanking ....
Are you going to get a chance to see this "Godspell," Mark? I'd be intrigued to hear your reaction ....
| || my first professional show :) by mooniemcmoonster|
| at the ripe old age of 15. I too have done this show three times (the first time being with okely dokely...and as he said, no prologue), the second time being my very first college production (again, no prologue), and the third time was up at black bear about two years ago. we actually did the prologue at black bear. it was really, really cool and i think it sets up what's about to happen much more appropriately than just starting the show. i wish more productions would use the prologue. |
| || edit to my last comment... by mooniemcmoonster|
| i completely do not remember the prologue from the theatre of the stars/muny production that we did. i have no idea how i have blocked that from my memory. maybe because we weren't a part of that segment of the show? i can't believe that i forgot about that. oops :) |
| || The prologue by cathead67|
| I've done the show twice and got to do the prologue once. At first, I thought it was really strange and didn't like it, but then it grew on me and became one of my favorite parts of the show. My second favorite was when Jesus sang "Alas, alas for you, lawyers and pharisees" because he always directed that line right in my face (I was still practicing law at that time). Ah, what memories . . .|
| || That Pesky Prologue by Uber Showman|
| I was in one of the first productions of GODSPELL after the rights had been released (Okay, Yep, I am THAT old). We did the prologue, which drove all of us up the WALL to learn. I was Buckminster Fuller, and had the "Man is a complex of patterns and processes" line, which surpassed even Sondheim lyrics in the difficulty level of getting it out intelligibly. (Of course, it didn't help that the director wanted the last word pronounced 'pro-cess-ies' [think British].|
Ah, the distant warm memories of my theatrical youth!
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